There were three ladies seated in the row in front of me at my screening of Don Jon. They lasted about 15 minutes, though one came back and watched the rest of the film. I really wasn’t that surprised, because Don Jon is a pretty hard R. As for myself, I find it to be a film that’s much easier to admire than actually like — and that has more to do with the Italian-American and New Jersey clichés that become somewhat overbearing more than any discomfort with the film’s themes. In fact, thematically, the whole porn addiction business is more symptomatic of Jon’s (Gordon-Levitt) problems than the actual problem. Jon is a guy who — according to his own description — defines his life by his devotion to his friends, his family, his ladies, his church, his car, his apartment, and his porn. By the end of the film all of those things have undergone some kind of change. It’s not that they’re all less than they seemed — though some definitely are — but that they are no longer quite what he thought they were. Jon has earned the “Don Jon” nickname because he always goes home with a new, hot girl every weekend. But he’s also unfulfilled by this, finding that he actually enjoys his time spent wanking to internet porn more than these conquests. This changes when he falls for Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) — an obvious, gum-smacking, but showy item that looks like a dream come true to a guy like Don. In fact, he thinks she’s worth changing for — including monogamy and no porn. The question isn’t just whether he can be what she wants, but whether he really wants what she has to offer. He might stop the weekend bar cruisings. He might even go to night school to better himself, but the porn — and his sense of self — that’s another matter. In fact, his transferring his porn viewing to his phone is what initiates Jon’s “meet awkward” with older woman fellow student Esther (Julianne Moore), who poses the sure to be immortal question, “Are you watching people fucking on your phone?” She doesn’t disapprove exactly, but she has other ideas about porn. What follows from this point will either make or break the film for you. I’m in the “make it” column, but all I’ll say about what follows this meeting is that it isn’t — at least mostly — what you expect. What the film becomes is the story of a guy who finally starts to examine why he’s doing what he does. It’s definitely an auspicious start for a first time filmmaker.
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